Actors portray a scene during the Trail of Tears Drama, which took place at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s amphitheater from 1969 to 2005 in Park Hill, Okla. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO

Cherokee amphitheater once Trail of Tears Drama site

Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO An audience attending the Trail of Tears Drama in 1989 listens to pre-show entertainment. The drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. COURTESY PHOTO
Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
05/29/2013 07:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tonia Hogner Weavel is an alumna of the original Trail of Tears Drama that began playing in June 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center. She was the principal dancer for it in 1974 and 1976.

Weavel, who is now the CHC’s education director, said the drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff. It was written by Kermit Hunter and continued the dramatic story performed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians titled “Unto These Hills,” which is still shows today in Cherokee, N.C.

“It (“Unto These Hills”) was the first half of the removal, and ours was after we (Cherokee people) reached Indian Territory,” she said.

In an unusual twist, Weavel said the amphitheater where the drama was performed until 2005 was designed to fit the script. “Usually the theater is built and you just work with what you have but in this instance the theater was designed to fit the show.”

Charles “Chief” Boyd, an architecture graduate at the time, designed the amphitheater after traveling to New York City to research ideas with CHC co-founder Col. Martin Hagerstrand. The theater was designed using a “thrust stage or extended into the audience,” was steeply graded and fan-shaped.

“It was built to form an intimacy with the play. Even though it was a great outdoor amphitheater, it was designed to be as intimate to the stage as possible,” Weavel said.

The audience was never more than 75 feet from the stage, she added. And because of the steepness of the amphitheater, an audience of 1,800 could look down on the stage and actors.

“There was not a bad seat in the house, literally. For the most part you didn’t miss anything in any seat in the house,” Weavel said.

At the back of the main stage was a “mountaintop” with natural foliage. Behind the stage were dressing rooms. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage.

Another impressive feature was it was the first outdoor theater with an air-cooled stage. On the stage sides were air-conditioning vents that blew across the stage, which Weavel said was necessary on hot nights.

Also, the stage’s design and theater served another purpose. Weavel said in the old days of the theater, actors did not use amplification devices to project their voices and needed “theater voices” that could project to the back of the stage.

“So we didn’t use any kind of microphone system because the theater was built in such a way as to carry the sound up,” she said. “We did have music and we did have narration, so there was a sound system.”

Later, actors used wireless microphones when they became more available and easier to use.

“The theater was a grand place. It was at a time when the technology we have today was not in place, so our entertainment was self-imposed. Like the drive-in theater that has gone by the wayside, amphitheaters have done the same. It’s much easier to sit in your air-conditioned home and dial up a movie on Netflix...than it is to take the effort to get in your car and go sit out in maybe 95-degree heat and make the effort to go see a show,” Weavel said.

She said ultimately that is why the drama stopped. Dwindling attendance along with the cost of putting on the drama made it impossible to continue.

“One thing that has not died is the people’s memories and their experiences with the Trail of Tears Drama from 1969 until it closed in 2005. It set wonderful memories and it allowed people to learn more about Cherokee culture,” she said.

will-chavez@cherokee.org


918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years.

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2015 05:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. –The 63rd Cherokee National Holiday Little Cherokee Ambassador Competition application deadline is set for July 22. According to www.cherokee.org, the overall goal of Little Cherokee Ambassadors is to begin instilling leadership skills that will help them eventually become leaders for the Cherokee Nation. Participating in the Little Cherokee Ambassador event is intended to inspire youth to achieve their dreams. They are also encouraged to “lead by example” and become self-sufficient, as well as gain knowledge of their Cherokee heritage and begin to recognize their history, culture and language. Those who wish to apply must be a CN citizen, reside within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction, be between ages 4 to 12 years old, ne physically able to perform duties, must not have previously served as Little Cherokee Ambassador in the same division and must provide a completed Little Cherokee Ambassador application by deadline. The Little Cherokee Ambassador competition will be on Aug. 8 at Sequoyah Schools’ Place Where They Play. Each age division will compete and the new ambassadors will be announced at the end of the event. Age categories range from 4 to 6 years old, 7 to 9 years old and 10 to 12 years old. Applications should be emailed to <a href="mailto: kristen-smith@cherokee.org">kristen-smith@cherokee.org</a>, hand delivered to the CN College Resource Center or mailed to Cherokee Nation Little Cherokee Ambassador Program, Attention: Kristen Thomas, College Resource Center, P.O. Box 948, Tahlequah, OK 74465. For more information, call Kristen Thomas at 918-525-2266.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/18/2015 01:13 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Spider Gallery and The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum are coming together to celebrate Cherokee artists Bill and Demos Glass and their artwork. At 6 p.m. on June 18 a miniature replica of one of their pieces will be unveiled, which will offer a sneak peek of the larger sculptured work. During the celebration, Bill and Demos will also talk about their process when creating their art and the symbolism the art holds. The celebration coincides with Tahlequah’s Third Thursday Art Walk. All galleries and shops will be open until 8:30 p.m. on this day.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/16/2015 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On June 20, the Cherokee Nation is offering free museum admission to dads in recognition of Father’s Day. CN museums are the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, the Cherokee National Prison Museum and the John Ross Museum. Originally built in 1844, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The 1,950-square-foot museum features exhibits on three historic aspects: the Cherokee National Judicial System, the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers and the Cherokee language, with a variety of historical items, including photos, stories, objects and furniture. Touch screen kiosks offer visitors documentary style learning on various legal topics as well as teaching conversational Cherokee. The Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. The interpretive site and museum give visitors an idea about how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows, exhibits about famous prisoners and daring escapes, local outlaws and Cherokee patriots, jail cells and much more. The John Ross Museum highlights the life of John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation for more than 38 years, and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and Cherokee Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School #51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery, where John Ross and other notable Cherokee citizens are buried. The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is located at 122 E. Keetoowah St., and the Cherokee National Prison Museum is at 124 E. Choctaw St., both in Tahlequah. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road in Park Hill. CN museums are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
06/15/2015 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Growing up Choctaw Nation citizen Joanne Davis spent a lot of time in the kitchen learning how to cook with her mother, grandmother and sister. But for the past 10 years, she has been making a Cherokee and Choctaw favorite, grape dumplings. “I’d have to get in there and learn how to do stuff, so I just grew up cooking and helping in the kitchen, learning how to make beans and gravy and stuff like that,” she said. On days when her mother didn’t feel like cooking, Davis and her sister would take over in the kitchen. “I’ve always liked to learn new recipes,” Davis said. “I watch a lot of cooking shows too, try out new recipes and stuff. I just enjoy cooking.” Without following a written recipe, Davis’ sister taught her how to make grape dumplings. “I don’t really measure, so I can’t say how much flour I use, but we use all-purpose flour and we use grape juice,” Davis said. “We put some grape juice on the stove to boil and add sugar to that and then I just mix up the dough, which is the flour and grape juice. Then I roll it out and cut it up for the dumplings and throw them in there. That’s the way I was taught to make them.” While tribes make grape dumplings different ways, nowadays they are commonly made with grape juice instead of traditional possum grapes. According to “Culture and Customs of the Choctaw Indians” by Donna L. Akers, a traditional way to make grape dumplings is to gather the wild grapes in the fall and dry them on the stem. To cook, boil the grapes and then strain them through cheesecloth and set the juice aside. Then mix cornmeal, baking soda and salt until doughy and roll into shape and drop into the grape juice and cook until done. The dumplings absorb the grape juice and the remainder of the juice is thickened. Davis said with her way of making the dumplings for a small group of people usually takes about 30 minutes. However, she and her sister usually make them for large events, if asked, such as the Free Feed during the Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. They also make fry bread to go along with the dumplings. “I enjoy making them and I feel like I’m contributing to the dinners,” she said. “I just enjoy cooking in general. I’m making stuff that people like. It makes me feel proud of myself.” <strong>Cherokee Nation recipe for grape dumplings</strong> 1 cup flour 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder 2 teaspoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon shortening 1/2 cup grape juice Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and shortening. Add juice and mix into stiff dough. Roll dough thin on floured board and cut into strips 1/2-inch wide, or roll dough in hands and break off pea-sized bits. Drop into boiling grape juice and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. – <a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a> <strong>Choctaw Nation recipe for grape dumplings</strong> 1/2 gallon unsweetened grape juice 2 cups sugar 2 tablespoons shortening, melted 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 cup water flour Bring grape juice to a boil with the sugar. Mix water, shortening and baking powder. Add enough flour to make stiff dough. Roll out thin on a floured board and cut into pieces. Drop each of these one at a time into the boiling juice. Cook over high heat about 5 minutes. Then simmer for about 10 minutes with cover on before serving. May be served with cream or plain. – <a href="http://www.choctawnation.com" target="_blank">www.choctawnation.com</a>
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/12/2015 12:00 PM
COLCORD, Okla. –There will be free Cherokee language classes starting June 18 at the Talbot Library and Museum. The classes are from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday and Saturday for five weeks. Those in attendance will learn beginning phonetics and will partake in syllabary writing practice. Students are encouraged to bring a writing utensil and a notepad. The class is open to anyone who would like to attend. The Talbot Library and Museum is located at 500 S. Colcord Ave. For more information, call class instructor Lawrence Panther at 918-232-6909 or email <a href="mailto: panther@nsuok.edu">panther@nsuok.edu</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
06/10/2015 08:16 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A panel exhibit is on display at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Service Center through Nov. 30 that highlights how Native soldiers and marines developed unbreakable codes to help win both world wars. “Code Talkers: How Natives Saved the United States” features standing panels that provide the history of Native Code Talkers and how they developed their unbreakable codes. In World War II, Germany’s military code was eventually broken. However, the enemy not could break the codes of Cherokee, Comanche, Navajo and other Native warriors. No machine understood their languages. Travis Owens, manager of Planning and Development for Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, said research was done to determine if there were Cherokee Code Talkers in World War I or World War II. “We did a lot of research and found out there was only one proven Cherokee Code Talker named George Adair. We presented some options for what we could do to memorialize the Code Talkers knowing that we could only document one so far,” Owens said. “One of those options was to to do a special exhibition on the history, not just Cherokee, but how Code Talkers saved America – the history of all tribes involved.” He said the exhibit highlights the Code Talkers’ legacy that included Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Choctaw, Comanche and Navajo soldiers and marines and why they served. The exhibit also highlights Adair who served with the 36th Division in Europe during World War I. In 2000, Congress passed a law that awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original 29 World War II Navajo Code Talkers and silver medals to each person who qualified as a Navajo Code Talker. In 2007, 18 Choctaw Code Talkers were posthumously awarded the Texas Medal of Valor for their World War II service. These two events are highlighted in the exhibit along with the fact The Code Talkers Recognition Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, which recognized every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military during WWI or WWII with a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2013, 25 tribes were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in recognition of the dedication and valor of Native American Code Talkers during WWI and WWII. The CN received one of those medals, which is on display in the exhibit. Owens said the exhibit also addresses the misconception that every tribe had Code Talkers who served. People will also learn about how the Native soldiers and marines created their codes, which tribes had a formal code-talking program, why Natives adapted better to military life and why Natives fought in World War I when they weren’t citizens of the United States. In the early 20th century, the Great Depression was particularly hard on Native Americans. Jobs and money were scarce, and families and communities were suffering. The military offered free room, board, clothing, food and pay to enlisted soldiers, which was a huge draw to the Native American population. The armed forces provided a job and place to live, while allowing them to send money home to their families. This history is highlighted in the exhibit. “This Code Talker exhibit honors the brave Native soldiers who used our Cherokee language and other Native languages to defeat enemies in multiple wars dating back to World War I,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Had it not been for their courageous efforts, the outcome of those wars could have been drastically different. We are proud to share their story with the public.” The CN Veterans Service Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about this and other historical attractions, visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.